Combating the Use of Cyanide Poison in Ivory Poaching

Sep 13, 2022 | Studies

By Richard Hoare, Chris Foggin, Steve Alexander, Divine Chakombera – African Journal of Wildlife Research


Malicious, commercial or retaliatory poisoning of wildlife is increasing across Africa, including the killing of elephants (Loxodonta africana) to supply the illegal ivory trade. Regional differences exist in the types of poisons used by poachers and in Zimbabwe cyanide has become more commonly employed in recent years – sourced illegally from its commercial use in the gold mining industry. Cyanide is potent, so can be rapidly lethal in small quantities and is also not too difficult or costly to source illegally. It is therefore a relatively low-risk option for any ivory poacher, even individuals not involved with criminal syndicates. On the positive side, however, cyanide has far fewer bio-accumulative and cycling properties in ecosystems than more frequently used poisons like pesticides. Detection and subsequent proof in a court of law, of the illegal use of cyanide in elephant carcasses, can be problematic to distinguish conclusively from other causes of sudden death. Therefore, proactive strategies to combat wildlife poisons are far more successful and the one proposed here against cyanide provides a good model. It encourages the establishment of strong intelligence networks to enable the arrest of poachers in possession of poisons before they are deployed in the field, and effective application of laws which now facilitate convictions for poaching. A key element in prosecution under recently revised Zimbabwean laws is proving that illegal possession of cyanide in the relevant circumstances includes the intent to use it for ivory poaching. Zimbabwe’s legal experience in this respect could prove especially valuable to other countries facing similar threats of poison being used illegally to kill any wildlife species.

 Download Citation: Richard Hoare, Chris Foggin, Steve Alexander, and Divine Chakombera “Combating the Use of Cyanide Poison in Ivory Poaching,” African Journal of Wildlife Research 52(1), (1 July 2022).

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